Thanks to digitisation, the way we do our banking has changed (and continues to change). It's important to know your rights.
We no longer have to visit a bank branch to deposit your pay cheque or make a withdrawal. We can use an ATM to access money on the go, and debit or credit cards to pay for goods and services in most stores.
In fact, many of our daily transactions now take place with the tap (or swipe) of a card.
This page explains:
- your consumer rights
- fees and charges
- 'basic' bank accounts
- things to be aware of
- advice on how to get your problem solved
- advice on how to be a savvy consumer
Your consumer rights
As a consumer, you are entitled to be treated fairly by your bank. You have the right to:
- have your money kept safe and secure, and returned to you in accordance with the law
- be able to conduct your banking in a safe environment
- be kept informed about the banking products and services you use, including any important changes to the terms and conditions of a product or service
- be given information to help you make an informed decision about whether to use a product or service
- have your privacy respected and your personal information treated confidentially in accordance with any terms you have accepted
- be able to access a complaints process if you have a problem
- access information about financial hardship arrangements and get help when appropriate.
It is your responsibility to:
- read any contract, terms and conditions and ensure you understand before signing or accepting them
- ask the bank to explain anything you don’t understand about the contract, terms and conditions
- meet your obligations under any contract you enter
- keep your personal information and banking details (including your PIN, access codes and account numbers) secure
- read your account statements and notify the bank of any suspected unauthorised activity
- take reasonable care to minimise the risk of fraud or forgery
- notify the bank immediately if your debit/credit card is lost or stolen
- take reasonable precautions when banking online (for example, install security software on your computer).
Fees and charges
"Under Government legislation and the Code of Banking Practice, banks must disclose all fees and charges. These are outlined in the product terms and conditions or product disclosure statement (PDS)."
Financial institutions such as banks, building societies and credit unions can charge you to use their products and services. You may be charged:
- for accessing your account
- for overdrawing your account
- when you use another bank’s ATM (see below)
- if your account falls below a minimum balance amount
- if the number of free (non-deposit) transactions allowed each month is exceeded.
You may also be charged a monthly account-keeping fee.
"Did you know? If you’re visually impaired, wheelchair-bound, or have any other disability which makes using an ATM impossible, many banks will waive fees on counter service."
Exception fees may be charged when credit card payments are late, payments are dishonoured, or credit card limits are exceeded.
Some banks (and other credit providers) can allow an account to exceed the designated credit limit, up to a certain amount. However, they may also impose an ‘overdrawn account’ fee.
Can exception fees be waived?
Yes. Some banks offer select accounts for eligible customers where exception fees and other types of fees are waived or capped. The Australian Banking Association (ABA) provides a list of basic bank accounts from member banks which have low exception fees.
ATM fees can be charged by the ATM owner for using their facility, and/or by the cardholder’s own financial institution for using another owner’s ATM. Fees differ across ATMs (depending on the ATM owner or type of transaction) and are charged direct to the cardholder’s account at the time of the transaction.
The ATM will display the amount of the direct charge. At this point, cardholders can either:
- agree to the charge and continue the transaction, immediately incurring the fee, or
- cancel the transaction without incurring the fee.
Some institutions choose not charge fees and others have network agreements allowing their customers to use other branded ATMs. Contact your bank or financial institution for more information.
Direct debit dishonour fees
A direct debit is when a payment is scheduled to be taken from your bank account or charged to your credit card. You must authorise these to take place.
It’s a convenient way to make recurring payments for things like phone and utility bills, insurance premiums, rent and mortgage. However, if you don’t have enough funds to meet the scheduled payment, you may be charged a dishonour fee.
Read the agreement carefully before entering into a direct debit arrangement. It is also wise to monitor the payments being deducted from your account, or charged to your credit card, and be prompt to cancel the authority when you no longer need the service.
Basic bank accounts
A ‘basic bank account’ is an everyday transaction account specifically designed for pensioners, low-income and disadvantaged consumers.
These accounts have a limited number of free transactions each month, no account keeping fees and no minimum monthly balance. There are other basic bank accounts with more generous features including unlimited fee-free over the counter transactions for customers aged 60 and over.
You may be eligible for a basic bank account if you hold a Pensioner Concession Card, Health Care Card or Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.
For more information and to see if you are eligible for a basic bank account, refer to the ABA website.
Things to be aware of
Phishing is when an unauthorised third party tries to steal your sensitive information including usernames, passwords and credit card details through deception.
Often the third party disguises itself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication (for example email or instant messaging) and directs users to ‘update’, ‘validate’ or ‘confirm’ their details by entering their personal information at a fake website that looks and feels identical to the legitimate site. It is a type of scam and you should not reply to the email or click on any links.
Refer to our Scams page for more on phishing, other scams and how to protect yourself.
An unauthorised transaction is when funds are transferred from your account (or charged to your credit card) without your knowledge or consent. You should check your account statements regularly and contact your bank immediately if you believe an unauthorised transaction has taken place.
In most cases, if your bank follows the ePayments Code (a voluntary code of practice administered and monitored by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)), you will be entitled to a refund.
Most banks and credit providers follow the ePayments Code. See if your financial institution does, learn more about the Code and unauthorised transactions on the ASIC website.
Cancelling a direct debit
In most cases you can cancel a direct debit authority at any time. If a contract with a business says that payment must be made by direct debit, you should speak with a solicitor before revoking your authority.
For direct debits that are linked to your savings or cheque account, you should notify your financial institution in writing. In the letter, you should note the date you would like these debits to stop and ask for a letter of confirmation once the task has been completed.
To cancel a direct debit on your credit card, you must write a letter to the business/service provider and send a copy of that letter to your financial institution.
ASIC’s Money Smart website has sample letters and more information to help you.
Note: If you cancel a direct debit payment, you must still pay the business for services or goods already provided to you. If you stop making payments, you may incur default penalties under the terms and conditions of your contract.
Have a problem?
If something goes wrong, the organisation you should contact will depend on the type of financial institution and the nature of the dispute.
Contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) if you have a complaint regarding:
- credit products
- finance facilities
- banking payments and deposits
- insurance policies
- financial advice
- a breach of law or duty
- misrepresented information (eg fees, charges, rebate or interest rates)
- a misrepresented product or service
- lack of assistance in relation to financial difficulty you are experiencing.
Call AFCA on 1800 931 678 or make a complaint online. AFCA provides a free and independent external dispute resolution service to consumers.
If you believe a bank or financial institution is or has engaged in illegal activity or misconduct, contact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) on 1300 300 630.
To report a scam, refer to the SCAMwatch website.
If you’re not sure who to contact about your problem, you can call us for help on 13 32 20 or make a complaint online.
Be a savvy consumer
Internet banking tips
Here are some tips to help you use internet banking safely:
- consider installing anti-virus software and a firewall on your computer system to protect you from viruses and malware
- never store your login and password together on your computer or in your email account
- if you accidentally enter the wrong password or login, a message saying ‘invalid login’ will appear. If this happens three times, you will be locked out and unable to access your account. To regain access, call the bank
- some banks charge fees for online banking. To find out what they are, type ‘online banking fees’ into the search function at the bank’s website
- be careful transferring funds to another person’s account. If you enter the wrong information and submit, you may not be able to retrieve the funds
- make note of the lodgement and receipt number of transactions you complete online
- always remember to log off when you finish your online banking
- be wary of emails asking you for confidential information such as your internet banking login and password
- visit the Money Smart website for more information and tips.
Avoiding exception fees
Most banking fees and charges can be easily avoided if you manage your finances carefully. To avoid exception fees:
- check your account balances before making payments
- review your banking habits to minimise opportunities where exception fees might be charged
- choose the right account that suits your transaction and saving needs. For example, if you regularly exceed your account balance, choose one that has an overdraft facility
- consolidate your accounts to help you keep track of your funds more easily
- create a budget and plan your outgoing spending so that your financial commitments match your incoming funds
- keep a small balance in your account to cover unexpected withdrawals
- visit the Money Smart website for more information.
Most financial institutions have their telephone banking service linked to a 1300 number. This means you only pay the cost of a local call when you call from a landline anywhere in Australia.
Calls made to 1300 or 1800 numbers from mobile phones can often attract significant charges.
Call us on 13 32 20 or submit an online enquiry.
Who enforces Australian Consumer Law?
The following agencies enforce provisions relating to consumer goods and services:
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
- NSW Fair Trading, and
- other State and Territory consumer protection agencies.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is responsible for financial products and services.